Saturday, April 7, 2018

Rescue Op: Crank's job in Missoula


January 23rd, 2060
0115 hours, Bear Bull Street, Missoula, Salishe-Sidhe

"Damnit, Tommy!" Gitti screamed. Bullets streaked between us as the attack continued. "How did I let you talk me into this?!?!"

"Quit your bitching!" I said.  Gitti didn't need to scream, the mic picked him up just fine.  The volume control in my earbud prevented him from injuring my hearing.  "This was Crank's idea, not mine."

"Okay, I may have been mistaken." Crank answered. There was a note of sarcasm to his voice. "But look at it this way, we're here, they're here.  Let's just kill them and get it over with."

Gitti and Crank each threw a grenade into the street.  The responding gunfire blew more holes through the wall we were concealed behind.  "Drek!" I yelled as I flattened myself on the floor.  There was a single, horrifically loud explosion, then the building fell on me.

To understand what the hell was going on you need to know about a few things that happened in the days prior.  We tried to do the right thing, and that's when everything went to Hell.

*****

January 12th, 2060

I dove back into my studies of alchemy, enchantment, and talismongering with a great deal of enthusiasm.  The material was fascinating to me, and I began to see connections to my understandings of spell casting and summoning. 

Aria was fourteen weeks into the pregnancy with the twins.  Her baby bump had grown, and she was now wearing her yoga pants as daily wear.  She had steadfastly refused to go maternity wear shopping "until absolutely necessary".  I didn't argue.

Rose had learned to make homemade ice cream from Aria.  Which was incredibly fortunate as, according to Aria, the babies were demanding ice cream regularly.  The doctor said it was okay so long as she ate it in moderation and I was happy because she could eat it without vomiting.

1100 hours

I was studying a text Mike had recommended.  It went into great detail on the fourth dimensional modeling of power foci and was a fascinating, if difficult read. My pocket secretary buzzed.  I had a call coming in that had been forwarded from a number I gave out to only a handful of fellow shadowrunners.  I didn't recognize the number.  "Hello?" I answered.

"Tommy, it's Crank." a deep voice said.  It sounded like Crank, but you should always be cautious.

"I heard you've been playing that zombie cop shooter lately.  How do you like it?" I responded.

"You heard wrong, chummer.  I kill monsters." Crank replied.

"You've got my attention.  What's up?" I asked.

"I need a meeting.  I'm putting a team together and I need a magician I can trust." Crank was serious.  There was no obvious stress or emotion in his voice, just a firmly controlled baritone.

"You got it, omae.  Where and when?" I sat up and pulled out a sheet of actual paper and an old ink pen.

"Meet me at the Cedar Hills reclamation site, tonight at twenty-two hundred." He said.  "Tommy, pack for a trip.  If you're coming, we'll gone for a few days."

"Understood. Twenty-two hundred, and pack for a trip.  See you then." I hung up, bookmarked my page, and closed the book.  One the sheet of paper I wrote, "Do not touch", and laid it upon the book. I rose, walked out of my lab and locked the door behind me.

I found Aria in the kitchen with Rose.  They were making lunch and talking laughing about something.  Rose was in her young elf girl form. Her hair was braided and she had a pink ribbon tied around the braids.  I gave her a hug, then wrapped my arms around Aria and gave her a kiss on the cheek.

"Hey, now" she laughed. "I'm making lunch.  Don't get between a pregnant woman and food."

I reached over and grabbed a carrot stick from the cutting board. "Just wanted to give you some attention. Crank called, I'm going to meet him tonight.  Work stuff."

Aria's smile faded a bit. "Okay, but you be careful.  Don't go getting all shot up again. I don't like it when you come home bleeding."

For some reason I thought that was funny.  I laughed and told her, "Honey, I didn't much care for it either."  Her eyebrow arched in a menacing way.  I banished my laughter and put on a serious expression, "I'll be as cautious as possible.  You'll see, I'll be home as soon as whatever is done, and we'll go on like usual."

"You have not located the information Crank and Little Rickie requested," Rose interjected.  "Should you not address that before meeting Crank?"

"I know, Rose. I've found some references, but I don't yet understand it." I had been looking for information on creating a self-sustaining mana loop attached to another person.  Attaching it to your own self, your own aura was simple once you understood the technique.  Creating a geo-stationary mana loop, one fixed to a particular point on Earth was similarly easy to do.  The question became how to create a self-sustaining mana loop to another person.  I had been conducting research on this point after Crank and Little Rickie had asked about having spells placed upon them. It was an interesting line of thought that I was eagerly exploring.

"I've found mention of techniques to enchant tattoos, but so far I've not found anything concrete on how it's done." I told her.  "I may have to take this question to the meta-planes when I come back."

"Or you may need to broaden the scope of your studies in this matter." Rose replied. "You have divided your time between the family needs, your pursuit into matters of enchantment, and have dedicated only a fraction of time to this matter.  Perhaps a more focused approach could yield benefit more quickly."

"You are probably correct." I told her. "Just remember, I do have a lot to learn, so I do often have to divide my time."

"You are only human," Rose admitted.

"Okay, enough magic talk." Aria waggled her finger at me. "If you're going out tonight, when am I to expect you back?"

"Crank only said it may be a few days" I confessed. "That assumes I take the job, of course."

"You be careful." Aria ordered.  She kissed me again, this time with more passion. When she pulled away she added, "After lunch I'll remind you what you're coming home to."

*****

January 12th, 2060

2200 hours

I left Rose at home to protect Aria.  An air elemental I had summoned days before flew me to my meeting.

The Cedar Hills reclamation site is an old landfill.  It is supposedly off limits to all but department of sanitation personnel, but that isn't the reality at all.  The site is home to numerous squatters, scavengers, and is rumored to be home to a cabal of rat shamans.  Crank lived in the dump, in an old camper trailer that had somehow found its way there.  The area smelled of methane and other gases that escaped the decomposition processes that waged war on the detritus of the twentieth and early twenty-first century.  Like any landfill or dump, it reeked.

I landed near Crank's camper, my astral sight open to help forewarn me of any threats. The area was alive with films of molds and mildews, fungal growths and slime, all attacking the legacy of a wasteful civilization.  Rats and other, unidentifiable, things scampered among the trash.

"Crank, you said you wanted to meet." I said aloud.  It wouldn't do to yell and disrupt Crank's neighbors.

I heard a rustle from the camper and it shifted in the debris. The door opened, and a large, familiar face stuck out of the door. "Tommy, you elf faced asshole." Crank's smile was immense, and contagious. "Come on in and take a seat."  He edged away from the door and the camper shifted again.  I climbed over the threshold and into Crank's home.

The outside of the camper was stained and fit right in with the environment.  The interior, however, was a surprising contrast.  Electric lights came on when the door closed.  High density household batteries occupied the far-right hand wall.  A large camping toilet was situated in front of them, a tri-fold dressing panel providing a measure of privacy.  A small kitchen, possibly the original one for the camper, shone under the lighting. The left end of the camper was dominated by a long bed that easily fit the big man.  Wall outlets hosted ultrasonic insect repelling devices.  "Nice place, Crank." I told him.  I was being honest.  It was a lot nicer than some of the places I had lived in when I was still in Redmond. "How do you power up the batteries?"

Crank smiled with a note of pride, "I've got a solar panel on the roof and a methane capture generator mounted next to it.  It's quiet and low profile.  I let the rat shamans recharge their personal devices on the plug in the back and they keep people from stealing them."  Crank lifted a panel in the floor, exposing a refrigeration compartment. He grabbed a large bottle of water looked to me and asked, "Can I get you a water?"

"Sure, thanks." I replied.  Crank's aura was calm, bright, and devoid of cyberware. He handed a cold liter of water to me.  I drank and relaxed a bit.

"I have an opportunity that came my way by a certain Mr. Johnson." Crank began. "I did some digging and I figured you might want to take a stab at it."

"I'm listening, omae.  What's the action?" I asked.

"Rescue op, actually." he began.  "One you may be interested in.  A couple of kids have gone missing up north.  Local law enforcement is all over it, but there is a twist." Crank's aura flared with a mix of emotions, though he didn't let them show.  "Some graves have been robbed since their disappearance.  It sounds familiar, neh?"

I whistled, "You think it's those things we fought at Cooper's place and then up along the Clearwater?"

Crank nodded his head slowly, "Maybe, but maybe not.  If it is, I want you there."

I thought about that a moment.  "What is Johnson's angle on this?"

"His daughter is one of the missing kids.  I had Angel look into his story and it seems legit.  She's on board for this, so you know." Crank leaned back and looked me in the eye.  "Money isn't as much as you were paying me.  Johnson is a rancher up near Missoula, raises buffalo.  I can pay you five thousand, plus another ten thousand if it turns out to be the same monsters."

"Not a lot, considering what we'll be facing if you're right." I told him.

"I know." Crank responded.  "I'd appreciate it if you could come along though.  Team is going to be damn small.  Gitti is coming but Ed is still unavailable."

"So, you've got Angel, Gitti, and who else?" I asked him.

"So far, Angel, Gitti, and me.  You if you'll say 'yes'." Crank said.

"What's our transportation like?" I asked.

"I've got that lined up.  T-bird pilot I know is going to run us right up to the ranch.  He'll pick us up again five days later.  We go find the kids, pick them up, return them and then lay low until pick up." Crank explained.

"We're light on gun hands." I said.  "Any ideas on anyone else we can bring?"

Crank seemed to relax a bit, "I wouldn't mind having Goblin Mike around, but I don't see him doing it for so little. Hell, his ammunition costs would eat most of that payday. I would like to get Adam, but he's off somewhere with Shade."

"What about Alexia?" I said.

"Who the frag is Alexia?"  Crank replied.

"The new guy who survived the vampires down in the Willows." I said.  "She followed the plan, kept her eyes open, and didn't run away when things went south."

Crank seemed to think about it a moment. "That's an idea. This low of a payday might not be a big deal to her.  I know when I started out I would have jumped at this kind of money."

"I know I did." I responded. "I'll do it because you're a chummer and you've done it for me before.  But you didn't do it this cheap, so I'll trade you.  I'll do this at your terms, you do my next job on mine."

Crank scratched his horn and said. "Yeah, I can do that."

"When do we leave?" I asked.

"About two hours. You have all you need?" Crank stood, hunched over, in the small camper and walked back to his bed.  He lifted the mattress and started pulling out guns.

"I think I'm good." I showed him the small rucksack I was carrying.  "I'm not equipped for a long trip in the woods though.  I didn't bring any food.  But I suppose we can live off the land, if we have to."

"Nah, I'm bringing some mil-spec field rations.  Gitti turned me onto them and they are really very tasty." Crank pulled out the pink light machine gun I had given him as a gift. He turned and looked at me over his shoulder.  "This has been a really good gun.  Thank you."

"Null sheen, chummer." I replied. "Just keep it firing away from me."

I sent a message to Sheila X and had a contact number for Alexia within ten minutes.  I called her while Crank and I hiked out of the landfill.

"Who is this?" Alexia asked.

"I'm the guy from the job in the Willows.  My chummer Crank has a job going up right now.  If you are interested in work, meet us at the Stuffer Shack on Carmichael street in Maple Valley.  You've got one hour to get there, or we'll be gone." I told her.

"How do I know I can trust you," she asked.

"You don't." I replied.  "You shouldn't trust anyone in this biz.  But the fact I have your number should tell you something.  Figure out if you're going to be there.  You have fifty-eight minutes."  I hung up the phone.

Crank was looking down at me with an odd expression. "Hard on the FNG* aren't you?"

"They were late the first time.  We're leaving now, so she can't afford to be late." I replied. "Also, she's new, if she proves she's reliable we can't have her getting into bad habits."

"Okay, but I'm talking to her about the job. It is my contract after all." Crank set his pink scooter down on the street and cycled up its little electric engine.  "You want to ride on the back or what?"

I shook my head. "I'll fly."


2300 hours

Alexia road up to the Stuffer Shack on a black Harley.  The engine rumbled smoothly and steadily, like a great beast snoring away.  She killed the engine, dismounted and strode over to Crank.  Alexia wore a fierce expression and she was clearly expecting a fight.  I stood quietly, my invisibility spell hiding me from the eyes of normal people.  I listened and took a moment to assess the newcomer shadowrunner.

She was two meters tall, though the heavy boots she wore added a centimeter or more to her height.  She wore heavy denim jeans and an Ares Predator heavy pistol rode in a holster belted on her hip.  An armored vest adorned with "My eyes are up here" emblazoned across the front over a flanel shirt. A pump shotgun was slung on her back.  Alexia's eyes swept the area, seeming to be on the lookout for anything suspicious.

Crank sat atop his pink electric scooter, a broad smile on his face.  "Oi, chummer!  Got a minute?" he asked.

Alexia walked over and looked up into Crank's eyes, "Do you have work to talk about or are you wasting my time?" she demanded.

"I've got work." Crank replied.  "How do you feel about finding lost kids?"

Crank's negotiation with Alexia didn't take long.  Crank offered her three thousand and they eventually agreed on five.   I let my invisibility spell unravel once they had agreed, and Alexia spun, reaching for her gun, though she stopped short of pulling it from its holster.

"You need to watch out for that," she warned. "You'll get shot sneaking up on someone that way."

"I've been here since you got here." I replied.  "Good to have you on the job."

*****

January 13th, 2060

0100 Hours

Alexia, Angel, Crank, Gitti and I climbed into the t-bird.   It was my first time in one and I wondered what all the excitement was about.  The smuggler hauling us over the border was a handsome, bald, human with dark black skin and gold cyber eyes.  Crank called him 'Snow', though I never found out why.

Snow buttoned up the hatch we climbed in through, then a moment later, his voice came over the internal speaker. "Right, buckle up folks.  We're going to be moving low and quick until we hit the cascades, then it gets slow and curvy for a while.  Sleep if you can, don't throw up in my ride.  Crank, I'm holding you responsible if any of your chummers makes a mess."

Crank gave a thumbs-up, then my gut dropped suddenly as the t-bird lifted off the ground and shot forward.  I couldn't see where we were going so I had no warning or preparation for the turns, dips and sudden lifts in the trip.  I was soon very nauseous and felt my stomach threaten to despoil the interior.

"Try lying flat," Crank said.  "Put your head toward the front and lay down.  It'll help with the nausea."

"This really sucks," I complained. "Next time I'll fly on my own."

"Yeah, yeah." Crank waved his hand at me.  "Enjoy the ride, broaden your experiences, and quit complaining."

I lay down, tucked my rucksack under my head, and tried to sleep.  I didn't have much success.  The t-bird bucked and swerved for what seemed like an eternity.  My stomach churned with the erratic movement.

Crank was telling a joke about three gangers and a baby when I heard thunder roar inside the t-bird, then everything went black.

0215 hours

I woke up laying amid flaming debris.  Everything was blurry, I felt cold and wasn't certain where I was.

"Rose, help." I said.  She wasn't anywhere around. I focused on our telepathic link and tried to reach out to her. "Rose, I'm hurt.  Help me."

I saw a large shape stirring in the wreckage.  A cloud of oily smoke occluded my vision and I coughed as the toxins irritated my nose and caused a burning sensation in my eyes.

"I'm coming," Rose's voice whispered in my mind.

The large form rose from under warped armor plating and the shattered remains of the t-bird.  "Angel?" Crank's voice sounded strained.  "Tommy?  Alexia?  Snow?  Anyone still alive?"

"Crank, I'm here." I said.  My voice came out weakly.  "I'm here, chummer."

I heard the familiar sound of gun fire over the cackling of the flames.  Crank staggered, then tripped and fell over a twisted beam.  He landed with a crash of poly-ceramic plating and alloy beams colliding with hundreds of kilos of falling troll.

Crank didn't get back up. I lay there, my vision clouding over as something wet and sticky was spreading down my face.  I smelled blood, cordite, and the reek of burning plastics.  Three shadowy figures crept into view.  They had AK-97's shouldered and ready.  My eyes were getting heavy and I blinked.  When my eyes opened again, the three figures were among the wreckage.

"Oi, we got us a couple of females," one of the figures said. He slung his rifle and started moving wreckage.

"If she's pretty we can get some good money for her in 'Vegas," another voice said.  "Is the trog dead?"

"'Nah, he's still breathing." a third voice responded. 

"I am here," Rose said. "You are badly hurt."

"Rose, there are enemies nearby.  I need you to put them down. Don't let them kill anyone." I sent the message from my mind to Rose and heard her respond as consciousness slipped away from me again.

"I will do violence."

I woke up to Rose's hands on my face.  I felt the power of her healing spell pulsing through my body. "How bad?" I asked.

"You were badly hurt, but I believe I can restore you." Rose responded.

"Are there any other survivors?" I asked.

"Yes, they are also badly hurt.  The healing spell will be done in moments. You can help them after that." Rose said.  "Aria will not be pleased."

"She'll be fine." I replied. "I'll tell her I'm okay and that I'll be home in a few days. What happened to those three guys that were prowling around the wreckage?"

"I did violence. They are dead." Rose's voice didn't carry any malice.  To her it was just a statement of fact.

"Thank you Rose," I said.  Her healing spell finished its work and I was able to stand.  I felt tired, and sticky, but I was able to move among the wreckage.  I found Crank first.  The large troll had been shot and was bleeding.  I knelt and placed my hands on the big man's chest.  Rose lent her own power to reinforce my own.  I put everything I could muster into that healing spell.  Wounds began to close as bullets and fragments from the destroyed t-bird were forced from his body.  I held the spell in place, mana infusing Crank's torn body to prompt its natural abilities to regenerate.  He would have some scarring, but he would be fine.  It was tiring.

"Rose, find Gitti.  Heal him as best as you can.  I'll find Angel then we'll look for Alexia."  I opened my sight to the astral plan and headed to where the first figure had claimed to have found a woman.  My insight served me well.

Angel was unconscious.  Her face was swollen, bruised and bloody.  "I've found Angel, she's in bad shape." My telepathic link with Rose was proving useful once again.

"Gitti is badly wounded.  The machines in his body will make healing him difficult.  I will begin." Rose reported.   Rose is an incredibly powerful spirit.  Her spell casting skills equaled my own and she could cast potent spells while suffering far less fatigue and strain than a metahuman sorcerer ever would.  Gitti had extensive reflex enhancement implants that had destroyed much of his essence, weakening his very soul.  It would challenge even Rose's abilities to heal him with magic.

"I know you'll do your best Rose."  I looked around and found my rucksack.  I rummaged in it until I found the small flask I kept for emergencies.  I opened the flask, lay my right hand on Angel's forehead, and poured out a measure of water from the Blood Falls over her chest.  "Creo sanitatem," I muttered.  Over and over I uttered the incantation as I released the healing spell to flow over her. "creo sanitatem mutato hominum de ex mystio creo sanitatem" Her swelling subsided, bruises faded, and her breathing became stronger.

 {Thanks again for that ~ Angel
 {Welcome ~ T}

I held the spell and felt fatigue begin to creep up on me.  Angel's cyberware made the spell difficult to cast and to hold in place.  "Why are my boobs wet?" her question startled me.  I very nearly lost control of the spell.

"It's an expendable spell focus I utilize for healing spells.  Helps the spell work."  I replied.  I looked down and saw Angel relax a bit.

"Okay, so long as it isn't for a creepy reason." she gave a ghost of a smile.

"Quiet you, we're in deep drek." I whispered.  Angel closed her eyes, laying very still, her breathing calm.  I felt the spell reach its culmination as the mana energies began to dissipate through her. "There are some dead bad guys around here.  See if they have any gear you can pull information from."  I stood up and went looking for Alexia.

"On it," Angel said softly.

I found Alexia lying next to a dead man.  He had been a pale skinned, 'anglo', human.  His AK-97 was laying in the wreckage, and Alexia's Ares Predator was still held firmly in his left hand.  His head was turned at an angle impossible to achieve without a broken neck.  I could just sense the faint echo of absolute terror that had befallen him before he died.

Alexia was still breathing.  Her legs were pinned under wreckage.  I tried to move it but couldn't.  "Rose, how is it coming with Gitti?"

My spirit's response was immediate, "He is conscious and furious.  I have been able to heal the most life threatening of his injuries."

"Can he walk?" I asked.

"His mobility will not be hampered." Rose reported.

"Good, tell him I need him here ASAP." I looked around for anything I could use as a lever.

Two minutes later I heard Gitti curse. "Damnit, Tommy.  This is fragged up badly."

"How did it happen?" I asked him.

"Alarm went off signalling incoming fire.  We had maybe a second before it hit the t-bird."  Gitti climbed over a bit of the wreck and crept over to me. "Must have impacted under the VTOL engine because the t-bird flipped, and we hit the ground tumbling.  I blacked out sometime during the crash."

"We had three guys come up on the wreck.  They shot Crank and were talking about selling the women.  I think it was just a straight up heist. Help me with this, please." I gestured to the wreckage laying across Alexia's legs.

Gitti helped me lift it off her.  Her legs were shattered, and she began bleeding fiercely.  "I'll tourniquet the legs!  You get that mojo bullshit going or she is going to die!"

I poured out another measure from my flask and began the spell.  Gitti pulled his belt off, looped it around Alexia's left leg, stuck his sheathed knife under the belt and twisted it tightly.  The bleeding from that leg slowed to almost nothing.  My spell was taking hold and the bleeding from her right leg slowed dramatically.  Gitti jumped up and started looking around.

"I'm going to find the medkit.  I saw one when we boarded, and I had one in my gear.  I'll be right back."  Gitti slipped off into the night, his weak aura vibrant with worry that was being channeled by finely honed discipline.  Alexia's aura was weak but intact.  The wreckage had kept her from bleeding out, but when we had removed it she started losing a lot of blood.

"Tommy?" Crank uttered.  The big man was stirring.

"Over here. Sit tight, don't move until we can look you over, omae." I said. "Rose, where are you?"

"I am behind you," she replied.

"I need your help," I told her.  The healing spells were exhausting, and my recent injuries didn't make it any easier.  Rose laid her hand upon my shoulder a moment later, lending her power to mine once more.  The spell became easier to channel, and Alexia took a deep breath.

"Ah, drek that hurts" she declared.

"Quiet. Give me a minute for this to work." I said.

Gitti appeared with a medkit in hand.  "How is she doing?"

"She's awake and hurting.  Not sure if I can get her moving, but I'm trying.  Bandage up anything still bleeding."  Gitti was already working on her before I finished my sentence.  I shut out everything except the spell and waited for it to take hold.

It was a very long few minutes.

The pilots compartment was destroyed.  Snow was dead.

Angel recovered a few pieces of gear from the guys who tried to kill us.  We managed to find their campsite the next day.  We grabbed what gear we could use, and fled northeast, hoping to move away from the border patrol.  They had been lying in wait along a known t-bird route. Seemed they were hoping to score a kill on a smuggler then steal the cargo.  We had the misfortune to run right through their ambush.  Snow's t-bird took a missile hit in the port VTOL engines and that was all she wrote.  Angel was using a signal scanner we found at the camp to snoop in on the border patrol communications.  It kept us one step ahead of the patrols, but just barely.

*****

January 17th, 2060

We spent the days after the crash hiding from border patrol drones, troops, and hunters.  The snow was knee deep.  I couldn't see the snow** but that made it easier for us to avoid falling into drifts.  I sent Rose home right after we fled the crash site.  I told her to let Aria know I was fine and to tell her I would send messages back as often as I could. I didn't envy the reception Rose would receive from my pregnant fiance.

A storm was rolling in and the border patrol search parties were pulling out.  They would be back after the storm passed.  It gave us a narrow window to move in.  Crank and Gitti took shelter in a cave we had found.  I called out for Rose and she arrived minutes later.

Rose took on her pegasus form and Angel and Alexia climbed up on her back.  I send out a command to one of the air elementals I had bound, then the three of us flew out until nightfall.  Angel and Alexia set up camp, while Rose and I flew back through the storm and returned to the cave.

The storm was raging when I arrived.  Crank and Getti had built a small fire in the very back of the cave.  "Tommy, this is a bad idea.  It's colder than a dragon's heart outside." Gitti said. "I think it's smarter if we wait out the evening and go at dawn.  If the storm has lessened, we'll have an easier time of making the trip."

"Crank?" I asked.

Crank shook his head, "No, we go now.  Bundle up and let's do this and get it over with."

We snuffed out the fire, then made our way out of the cave.  The wind was blowing steadily, and I felt the sting of snow and ice hitting my face.  I climbed upon Rose's back, her wings spread wide, and we launched into the sky.  My air elementals lifted Crank and Gitti and we dashed across the night sky.

The thermal insulation of my form fitting body armor was all that protected me from frostbite.  Gitti and crank both wore heavily insulated winter wear, but the cold still bit deep on each of us.  We landed in the dark hours of early morning, the tents Angel and Alexia had put up had withstood the storm.  I walked over to one that had a dim glow coming from within, reached for the zippered entrance and said, "It's me, don't shoot."

I stepped into the tent.  The soft glow came from a glow stick hanging from the ceiling.  Gitti came in behind me, and Crank squeezed in behind him.

"Angel and Alexia in the other one?" Crank asked.

"I haven't checked yet.  Give me a minute and I'll find out."  I sent out a telepathic message to Rose, "Please check the other tent and make sure Angel and Alexia are there, please."

"Certainly," Rose replied.  A moment later she added, "They are sleeping. Shall I wake them?"

"No, thank you Rose.  That's not necessary.  Please go home and take care of Aria.  Let her know I'm okay and that I'll send her another message soon." I told her.

"Please do be careful.  Aria will be most displeased if you are not home soon." Rose replied.  Then she suddenly seemed very far away.


January 20th, 2060

0800 hours

The storm raged for two days.

Once the storm broke, we packed up and headed north.  We made it to the highway and managed to arrive at Missoula before nightfall.  Crank made contact with the fixer who arranged his job. He arranged for rooms for us in an old, run down hotel.

I entered my room and opened my astral sight.  The astral space had the usual lingering echoes of lust and loneliness. There weren't any spirits about.  I locked the door, lay down in the bathtub and projected my astral body over to Angel's room.  I found that her room was clear of any astral eavesdroppers, no spirits were present, and she was fiddling with the gray insubstantial box I assumed to be her cyber deck.  I floated along checking Alexia, Crank, and Gitti's rooms.  None appeared to be under astral surveillance.

"Good sign after a rough start." I told myself.  I slipped back into my meat body and stripped down for a shower.  I whispered out to the astral for my water elemental, it manifested in the shower.  I turned on the shower, as hot as I could get the water to reach, and had my spirit purify the water as it cascaded upon me.  A hot shower was fantastic after days in the cold and snow.

My commlink buzzed.  I reached out from the shower and fitted the earpiece.  "Hello,"

"Tommy," Angel's voice sounded in my ear. "I've checked and there isn't anything in the rooms I can't counter.  Someone has tapped the pin cameras on the trideo units to watch the rooms.  I've looped those feeds and subscribed the host to a number of evangelical podcasts, religious channels, and to a number of ultra conservative poli-clubs." I could almost hear the smile in her voice.  Angel likes her mischief.

"Groovy, so we won't use the trideo then.  Better let Gitti know or he'll be watching war porn soon." I said.

"What is that noise?" Angel asked.

"I'm in the shower." I replied.

"Yeah, I'm heading that way myself. Crank says we're meeting in thirty minutes." she broke transmission.  I finished my shower, rinsed and dried my formfitting body armor, and got dressed.

2120 hours

"Angel, no one seems to have made any progress on finding the kids.  Dig deep and see what you can find out.  Gitti you and Tommy go check out the cemetery where the grave robbing was reported.  I want to know if we're dealing with those monsters again.  Alexia, you stay close to Angel and keep her safe."  Crank was calm and precise.  "I'm going to talk to some old chummers locally and see if I can find anything out.  Angel, while you're at it, look into Mr. Johnson again.  Let's see what he's been up to while we were getting here."

"Can do," Angel said.

"I'd like to hold off until after the sun is up to check out the graves.  Less chance of running into ghouls.  No reason to raise any suspicion by getting into extra conflicts." I offered.

Crank nodded at that. "Good thinking.  You two look after each other and stay in contact." Crank turned back to Angel. "Are we going to have any communication problems?"

"No, we're fine.  I've run us through the local networks.  We're good anywhere in Missoula itself, but out near the ranches it'll be hit and miss." she said.

Our meeting broke up and I went back to my room.  I sent a telepathic message to Rose, who relayed a communication between Aria and I for a few minutes.  Aria wasn't happy that I had been gone so long, but she was well.  The babies had her craving weird foods and she was eating a bowl of chili and planned to follow that with banana pudding.  My stomach churned a bit at that, but Rose told me Aria was looking forward to it.

I set my alarm and drifted into a restless sleep.

*****

January 21st, 2060

0940 hours

Gitti and I made it to the scene of the reputed grave robbing.  The affected graves had been filled back in.  I took several minutes to examine the scene and didn't find any trace of magical or spiritual efforts that looked out of place.  The site carried an aura similar to those I had seen at other sacred sites.

"I got nothing here, Gitti." I told him. "Let's get back before someone asks who we're looking for."

"Glad to hear it," Gitti replied. "I watched the feed from Peck.  I saw it and I still can't believe you and Crank got out of there alive."

"I hope those things are gone for good." I confessed.

We rode back toward our hotel, stopping to have an early lunch at an old, and well-reviewed, restaurant called The Notorious P.I.G. BBQ  Gitti and I both had the pastrami sandwich which was very nearly a religious experience.  Take it from a wizard, it's a magical sandwich!  I paid in cash (take it from me, leave as small an electronic footprint as you can) and we hoofed it a few blocks to our hotel.

1600 hours

We had another meeting in Crank's room.

"Nothing at the graves indicated the presence of our monsters." I reported.  "I think we're dealing with something else."

"Great ghost smiles on us then," Crank said.  "Angel did you find anything out?"

Angel shifted a bit in her seat, "Yeah, we've got problems.  I found Mr. Johnson's daughter on a few social media accounts.  She's keeping a low profile, but she's been accessing messages and playing a few of her favorite games.  She's ignored messages from her father.  I think we're looking at a runaway."

"So, we go bag her for daddy and drop her in his lap, get paid and go home." Alexia offered.

"Yes," Crank said.

"I pulled some of her messages," Angel hit a few keys on her cyberdeck and my AR goggles made a 'ping' noise. "Take a look for yourselves."

I read through the data Angel had dug up.  It made my stomach knot and I felt a flush of anger.  Mr. Johnson had been abusing his child.  She had enough and left with a friend.  He was trying to cover his own ass and had several people out looking for her.  We were one of a handful of teams looking for her.

I handed my AR goggles to Alexia. "Take a look."  She slipped on the goggles and paged through the content.

"Drek," Crank muttered.  "This puts things in a different light."

"How do you want to play this?" I asked.

Crank thought about it for a few minutes, "We find the girl and see if she wants to go home.  If so, then we'll escort her back. If not, then we tell Mr. Johnson to go frag himself and hold this evidence to make sure he pays up."

"So long as I'm getting paid," Alexia interjected. "I didn't hike through storms and snow for nothing chummers."

"Got to agree with the FNG," Gitti said.

"Something about his reeks," Angel said. "I'm not good with turning the kid over to Johnson.  If you're going to hand her over, I'm out."

"Let's find the kid, and ask her.  If this data is good, we use the data to get paid, and the kid walks." I was thinking out loud. I smiled broadly.  "Yeah, I like this plan Crank. Let's do that."

"Find the kid." Crank said. "We've got competition with a head start on us.  Local wannabe tough guys, those are no problem really.  There is a private investigator on the case though, and she's a problem.  My contacts say she is top notch local talent."

"If she's so good why hasn't she found her yet?" Gitti asked.

"Seems she is having a problem getting people to talk to her.  Girls friends are saying they don't know anything." Crank replied.  "There is something there though.  Angel, can you find out who she may be in touch with?  Sooner or later someone is going to spill her data and then we'll be racing to get to her."

"Didn't you say there were other missing kids?" I asked.

"Yeah, seems they came home before the storm came in.  Police interviewed them, but none of them seemed to know about her location." Angel responded.

"Wait, she's still on her social media and playing a couple of games," the realization hit me. "She's here in town or else somewhere with good signal."

Angel looked at me, "You've been paying attention.  Yes, I tagged her account.  I'll get a hit when she logs back in."

"Even better then," Crank said.  "Let's play this softly.  We'll lay low and see if we can't pick her up from her gaming habit.  If we don't have a lead in the next twenty-four hours, we hit the pavement and see if we can flush her out."

We didn't have to wait long.

January 22nd, 2060

0200 hours

She logged in to her mmorpg account for what amounted to some late-night questing.  Angel's bots rang our comms, waking me from a terrible dream. The message simply read, "Contact".  I jumped into my clothes and padded down the corridor to Angel's room. Gitti and Alexia were already knocking on her door. Crank opened the door and we all crowded into her room.

Angel was jacked into her cyberdeck.  Her voice came over a small display running from her 'deck. "She doesn't seem aware that we've tagged her. She's just playing her game.  I'll have her GPS in about two minutes."


0215 hours

We crammed into a SUV Crank had summoned from a local car service.  We rode over to the east end of town.  According to the data that was streaming to her mmorpg account, she was in an old church on the east side.

"Seems a bit too easy," Alexia said.

"Easy newbie," Gitti replied. "We may have gotten lucky."

0228 hours

We pulled to a stop, just a block from the old church.  We squeezed our way out of the SUV and onto the street.  We had just crept up into the church's old parking lot when the doors flung wide and two men came out.  The girl was being carried between them. She was gagged, and her hands were cuffed behind her.

Crank's voice whispered over the com, sounding clearly in my ear. "Tommy, put them down."

I stretched out my hand in a familiar gesture.  My sleep spell found the minds of the three people and squeezed hard.  They fell, dumping the girl to her knees between them.  Crank gestured to Gitti, who raised his SMG and advanced on the church.  Crank drew his heavy pistol and took aim at the church's door.  Gitti picked the girl up, slung her limp form over his shoulder, then loped back to us.

"Time to go," Crank snapped.

"That was fast," Alexia muttered.

"Stow it, we're leaving." Gitti replied.  I opened the back hatch on the Suv and Gitti dumped the girl in the back.

We pulled away and headed to a safe house Crank's fixer friend had set up for us.

*****

January 22nd, 2060

1400 hours

I woke up on the dingy couch.  The old house smelled of mildew, dust, and rot.  It was cold, with no power or heat. Alexia was slumped in the corner and appeared to be asleep.  Angel was sitting on the floor, about a meter away from me, facing the front door.  I couldn't see Crank or Gitti.

I rose from the couch as quietly as I could.  Alexia raised her head and watched me, while Angel turned to look at me then went back to watching the door. I walked back into wrecked kitchen, the floor creaking underfoot.

"She's awake," Gitti said.

The girl was fourteen.  She had shaved her head and was wearing baggy clothes that hid her build.  Crank had cut the handcuffs off her when we brought her in.  Crank had taken the gag off and put it in his pocket.  Right then she was staring daggers at Gitti. I opened my astral sight and examined her aura.

She was afraid and angry.  Her aura was bright, colored with her tightly constrained emotions, and rippling with potential. She stared back at me, but she wasn't seeing into the astral plane.  It seemed she may not have fully awakened her talent, or even know of it. She turned to face me, fear flashing across her aura.  I watched as she managed her emotions, turning fear into fuel for her anger and reinforcing her courage.  She was a brave kid.

"What are you looking at drek-head!" she snapped.

"Your father wants us to bring you back," I said.  I kept my voice calm and low. I saw fear flood her aura.  She clenched her fists.  "You can't fight us and win.  But you can talk to us. We went through your messages.  We know what you've told your friends and we know why they haven't been telling people where you are."

Her aura bloomed with fresh fear and shame.  "Oh. Then you're going to sell me back to my dad and tell him who helped me, so he can take it out on them too, right?  No, frag off and die."

"You're loyal to your chummers.  I can respect that."  I turned to Gitti.  "Where's Crank?"

The back door opened, and Crank came walking in. "Right here, what's up?"

"We need to talk, omae." I told him.

Crank nodded toward the door and we walked out into the yard.

"What do you think?" Crank asked.

I shrugged. "She's more afraid of her father than she is of us.  Doesn't mean that the things she told her friends is true, but I think it likely is.  It's enough that, for me, I'm out if we're delivering her to Johnson.  Nothing personal omae, but I can't be a part of that."

"Tommy, this job has been one raging drek-fest after another.  I'm bleeding nuyen on this one." Crank replied.  "I get where you're coming from, but at the end of the day I've got to get paid, we all do."

"She's awakened Crank." I looked up at him.  "If we turn her over to him she might not ever develop her power. Or, she might, and it may be twisted and tainted from what he's done.  Then again, from the fear I saw in her, he may just kill her to her quiet."

"Drek!  Tommy I am NOT a social worker!"  Crank's voice was low and harsh. "I don't want to put a kid through that, but I'm up against a wall on the money."

"The job was a rescue op.  We're not rescuing the kid if we hand her over to Mr. Johnson.  I know the money is fragged up, omae.  Believe me, I've been away from home a while on this trip with you.  If it weren't for you, Gitti, and Angel I would have flown home when the t-bird blew." I took a breath and reached out and thumped Crank on the arm. "We fight monsters, we don't sell children back to people who abuse them."

Crank scratched at his horn, his face growing flush, "Got any ideas?"

"Yeah, we take her back to Seattle and have Sheila X introduce her to a magician that can teach her.  She does into the Shadows and you've got another magician chummer, one who owes you a favor, once she's trained up." I paced a few steps, then turned back to face Crank. "We tell Mr. Johnson that she's gone and get the hell out of here and back to the 'plex.  If Mr. Johnson doesn't like it, he can go frag himself."

"I'll have to return the up-front money," Crank shook his head. "This job is going to set me back a good bit, Tommy."

"I'm sure I can find another one to help make up for it.  Besides, you don't really want to piss Angel off at you, do you?" Crank was a chummer, a hard core shadowrunner, a professional criminal, and a man well versed in the arts of violence and mayhem.  I watched as his conscious fought against his pride and dread.  Crank would fight monsters, but at the end of the day he wasn't a monster himself.

"I like this 'Mr. Johnson can go frag himself' plan.  Let's do that." Crank's smile faltered a bit. "I can't pay you though.  Are we going to have a problem?"

"Crank, if it was a problem you wouldn't want to work with me anyway," I told him.

"Good point. I'll go see my fixer, return the up-front money and do damage control on my rep a bit.  You guys get out of here, head back to the hotel and I'll meet you guys there.  Can you fly us out of here?"

"Yeah, I think so.  We'll have to send the Angel and Alexia first, but I think we can make it work."  I told him.  Crank went to see his fixer and I went inside to break the news to the rest of the team.


1830 Hours

Rose bore the girl and Angel on her back.  "I will take them, then come back for you.  It will take time." she assured me.

"Keep them safe, baby-girl." I looked at the girl and Angel. "She'll take you to a person I know.  Angel, keep her at the Brick Yard until I get there.  You'll be safe from your father in Seattle."

"I'll give Sheila X your message," Angel told me. "Get your asses out of here as soon as you can."

Crank handed Alexia a credstick.  She put it in her pocket then looked at me and said, "Are we going to do this or what?"

The air elemental lifted Alexia, and Rose took off carrying the girl and Angel.  They vanished from sight, heading west over the mountains.

Crank looked at me and sighed. "Want to join me and Gitti for a beer?"

"Sure chummer." I replied. "Sorry about the job going pear-shaped."

"Sub-zero.  Frag him.  It's like you said, we fight monsters we don't sell children to people who abuse them."  Crank looked down at me. "We're lousy criminals, omae."

I laughed at that. "Crank, we're fraggin' super villains.  Special powers, wicked skills, and mercenary sensibilities.  We just have our own codes, and it doesn't include this drek."

"Are you going to actually drink a beer, or do we have to find you some apple juice or something?" Crank thumped my shoulder, it hurt.

2000 hours

I was on my second beer.  Crank and Gitti had put a few down each.  We were eating nachos and wings, drinking and talking about urban brawl, women, and other nonsense we each knew very little about.  Crank's pocket secretary buzzed, and he checked the message he was receiving. His face became stern very suddenly.

"Chummers, we need to go. Now." He slotted his credstick, paid our bill, then rose.  Gitti and I mirrored his actions and followed him out.

"What's up?" Gitti asked.

"Not here." Crank replied. "Keep your eyes up, we've got trouble."

We made it back to the hotel and collected our gear.  Crank came out of his room with his dufflebag, Gitti and I came out with our rucksacks.  "We need to find a place to lay low until we leave." Crank told us as we took the stairs down. "My fixer had some people show up with a video file from the church when we grabbed the girl.  We're made."

"Drek." Gitti said.  "Wonder how Angel missed it."

"No idea yet," Crank said.  "Not important though. Some well-armed people want to talk to us."

We made it to the street level.  I wrapped an invisibility spell around us and we walked down the street.  Crank led us for several blocks before we found a boarded-up strip mall.  We went around the back of the building and broke in.

"How long before we can leave?" Crank asked.

"Hours. Sunrise would be best though." I told him.

"That's not good news.  We'll just have to lay low and hope we can fade away before anyone figures out where we are." Crank said.

Gitti cut a peep hole in one of the boards covering a front window.  He assembled his SMG and kept an eye out.  Crank hung rigged a flash/bang grenade to the back door to foil anyone trying to follow us in.  We each checked our weapons and prepared for the worst.

While we were hiding in the ruined old strip mall, the people hunting us were getting closer.


January 23rd, 2060

0110 Hours

They ghosted up on us in the dark.

"I've got people creeping up this way." Gitti whispered.  "They're sneaky, but thermal doesn't lie."

"How many?" Crank asked.

"More than ten on foot.  A few more heat signatures in an old van that rolled up."  Gitti responded.

"I'll take a look from the astral.  Be right back." I lay my head on my rucksack and let my astral form slip free of my body.  I rose and came face to face with another magician.

"Well, well anglo.  Want to give up now?" he asked.  His astral form was brilliant, and he had wolfish features.

"Funny, I was just about to ask you the same thing."  I said.

He circled around me and was soon joined by beastly wolf spirit. "I don't think you get it anglo.  You're in my hunting ground.  You'll either be gone, or you'll be dead.  I want the girl.  Tell me where she is, we'll get her, then we'll let you walk out of town.  You ever come back I'll skin you alive."

I sent out the call and was soon joined by a trio of elemental spirits.  "Chummer, I don't think you want to fight.  I think you want to get lost and forgot you ever saw us."

He surged forward, a weapon focus in the shape of a knife suddenly appearing in his hand.  I stepped aside from his first attack and sent the order to the elementals.  The three spirits leaped upon the wolf-spirit with a savage fury.  The magician swiped at me with his weapon again and I barely managed to avoid the blow.

"Last chance, anglo." he snarled. "Give up or die!"

I threw a bolt of mana at him.  He batted it aside and streaked toward me.  His weapon grazed my arm and I felt the fiery burn of the weapons enchantment as it cut a groove through me.  I hardened my will and hit him with everything I had.  I felt the impact and saw his astral form waver and crack under the impact.  He brought his weapon focus up and screamed "Die anglo!"  Behind him, his beast spirit was torn asunder.

"You first," I replied.  I gave the order to my spirits and they fell upon him like rain in a storm.  He fought desperately, growling and howling in rage and pain.  I sent another bolt of mana into his tattered astral form and watched as he shattered, his astral form dissipating with an angry howl.  I floated out into the street and saw several people moving on the street.  Their auras were bright with anticipation, anger, and the fear that comes from imminent combat.  I returned to my body and opened my eyes.

I sat up just in time for the first shots to blow through the wall.  "I count eighteen.  We're hosed.  I took out one magician, and I haven't seen any others."

From out in the street, the familiar sound of AK-97s firing erupted.  The boards over the windows disintegrated as huge holes were blown through them.  Holes appeared in the walls as they poured fire into the front of the building.  "Stay down and hold fire until I say," Crank called over his mic.

The firing went on for more than a minute. There was a sudden pause in the firing and Crank pushed himself up and lay his light machine gun over the shattered window sill "Now!" he cried.  His pink light machine gun, with the multi-colored flower stickers poured fiery death out into the street.  Gitti brought his sub-machine gun up and fired a long burst out into the street.  I threw a fireball out into the street at the van I had seen people hiding behind.

The fight raged for minutes. Which brings us to where this story began ~

0115 hours, Bear Bull Street, Missoula, Salishe-Sidhe

"Damnit, Tommy!" Gitti screamed. Bullets streaked between us as the attack continued. "How did I let you talk me into this?!?!"

"Quit your bitching!" I said.  Gitti didn't need to scream, the mic picked him up just fine.  The volume control in my earbud prevented him from injuring my hearing.  "This was Crank's idea, not mine."

"Okay, I may have been mistaken." Crank answered. There was a note of sarcasm to his voice. "But look at it this way, we're here, they're here.  Lets just kill them and get it over with."

Gitti and Crank each threw a grenade into the street.  The responding gunfire blew more holes through the wall we were concealed behind.  "Drek!" I yelled as I flattened myself on the floor.  There was a single, horrifically loud explosion, then the building fell on me.

0120 hours

Crank lifted ducts and timbers that had pinned me in the wreckage.  I heard Gitti's weapon firing even as Crank asked, "Tommy, you still alive chummer?"

"I'm good Crank.  Let's get the frag out of here." I said.

"We're in the thick of it, omae." Crank replied.  I heard police sirens in the distance.

"Got it," I said.  "Let's go Gitti!"

I wrapped an invisibility spell around us and we climbed over the rubble.  "Hold up one," I told them.  I sent out the call into astral space and my fire elemental cheerfully responded.  It manifested as a five-meter-tall column of fire and rolled along the old strip mall.  "Burn it down.  Burn it all down." I commanded.   To my chummers I said, "Let's go"

We slipped past the watchful eyes of law enforcement and got out of there before reinforcements could show up.  Some of the people who had been shooting at us made the mistake of mixing it up with the police, which gave us some extra time to get out.  At 0125 there was a tremendous explosion that lit up the night sky.  I looked back and saw the blazing ruin sending flames ten meters into the sky.  My fire elemental was dancing gleefully within the conflagration.

We spent two hours sneaking through Missoula.  We made it to the river and hid under the Russell street bridge.

"For the record, this sucked." Gitti said.

"I don't know, Gitti.  I'm feeling pretty good about this job." I smiled at Crank.  "What about you chummer?"

"I fought monsters." Crank nodded, a smile creeping onto his face.

"Good for us." Gitti moaned. "Next time either of you call me for work I need to make some serious nuyen.  I'm getting to old for this drek."

We escaped Missoula by following the river.  It was cold as Hell, but no one was out on the ice.  We followed the river until dawn.  After the sun came up, I called out to Rose and the air elementals.  We flew as fast as the spirits could carry us, buzzing treetops as we swerved between mountains.  We made it to the Brick Yard at 1638 hours.  Little Rickie was waiting for us at the door.

*****

Afterword:

Crank took it on the chin for this run.  He paid Gitti and Alexia, but Angel and I didn't press him for money.  Sheila X introduced the girl to a street shaman.  He took her on as an apprentice and I didn't see her again for a few years.

Aria was incredibly unhappy with me for being gone so long. We had a long talk about what happened. She understood and was proud that we hadn't taken the girl back.  I kissed her, tousled Rose's hair, and took a long hot shower.

That night, Aria and I were lying in bed, Rose was laying at our feet.  Aria was telling me about names she had thought of for the twins when she suddenly stopped and grabbed my hands.  "Now!  Feel this!"  She placed my hands on her swelling stomach and I felt something move.

"Wow." I felt fluttery movement against my hand. "Does it hurt?"

"Nope. Not at all." Aria said. Her eyes were shining, and she was stroking her stomach with her hands.  "I felt them move while you were away.  I think they wanted me to know they were there.  It was a stressful few days."

"I'm sorry baby," I told her.  I placed my ear on her stomach and felt something small press against my face.  It was an amazing moment that I hope I never forget.  "Thanks for taking care of you mom, you two."

*****

From the author:

Thank you for reading my fan fiction. I hope you have enjoyed it and will share it with others. 

I also write role-playing game material for other games (not Shadowrun, unfortunately). I use crowdfunding through KickStarter to pay fair rates to the artists I commission art from, and to pay for printing costs and backer reward production.

I will be launching a new KickStarter campaign for my coming book, The Steel Road, in a few weeks.  Presently I am expecting to launch that campaign in May of 2018.  I hope you'll check it out.  Below is an illustration from that book, done by artist Zachary Viola.  Enjoy!



You can learn more about The Steel Road on my other blog, using the link HERE


*(Fraggin' New Gal/Guy:  twen-cen slang term)
** (Ghosts of Puget Sound)

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